Could there be a better moment for a re-examination of the very notion of “America?” With a translation from the French of noted French art historian, essayist, and poet Yves Bonnefoy’s story, “America” (translated by Hoyt Rogers), essays on white poverty in the south (Wayne Flight), and on modernism and democratic pluralism, with a focus on John Dewey (Allen Dunn), and fiction that considers American family life (Brigitte McCray), I am tempted to say that the editors of this issue of Southern Humanities Review (SHR) predicted, months ago, our need to explore what is at the essence of American identity during the current time of turmoil and transition.
On the other hand, the issue’s borders are wider and more generous. My favorite feature, in fact, is a beautiful series of translations of the haiku of eighteenth century Japanese poet Yosa Buson, translated with exacting notes by Amy England. The original Japanese, England’s translations and her notes are presented in a format that is both attractive and easy to follow. Translations by Daniela Hurezanau and Stephen Kessler of two poems by Lorand Gaspar take us, ostensibly, to France and China, though in a more immediate sense they lead us to a place of tender, lyrical pleasure. Bill Wolak’s excellent review of A History if Things Lost of Broken, stories by Philip Ciofarri, conclude the issue by bringing us back to the Bronx, a place of confused, or at the very least complicated, American identities, if there ever was one.
One of the great pleasures of SHR is the presentation together of academic essays alongside fiction, poetry, and reviews of books from university and independent presses, with a decided predilection for analysis over personal reflection, but with clear-eyed attention, as well, to a literature that considers the difficulties of daily life.
This issue’s cover features a work by a favorite artist of mine, Thomas Hart Benton, whose painting is described in the “Editor’s Comment” as a “brash depiction of the American scene” that rejects modernism and presents a “nostalgic populism.” The scene features musicians (violin, banjo, guitar) and farmers in depression-era garb on the grounds of what appears to be a small farm (family farm, as we now call them, perhaps). Are these hungry musicians singing for their supper? While it won’t help you feed your family, in these troubled and troubling times, this issue of SHR will surely feed your soul.